chi_rho CHRISTIAN SYMBOLOGY
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Chapter - Plants

CADIA BUSH1. A symbol of immortality. 2. If the bush is on fire, it symbolizes Moses and the burning bush.

APPLE (Forbidden fruit)1. The apple symbolizes sin. The connection seems to stem from the Latin words malum meaning “apple” and malus meaning “sin.” The similarity of these words probably led to the apple’s connection with the fruit that was eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The eating of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil brought sin into the world for all humankind. The type of fruit Adam and Eve ate is subject to much speculation among scholars. It is possible that the fruit was unique to the garden and no longer exists. Due to the destruction of the Garden of Eden, we will never know with any certainty what type of fruit it was. 2. If the apple (fruit) is being held in the hand of Jesus (2nd Adam), it represents redemption over the fall.

ASPEN 1. The aspen, with its small, quivering leaves, is found in two legends: the first legend tells us how the aspen tree was selected to be used for Jesus’ cross. When the tree realized it’s horrible destiny it began to tremble. To this day the aspen can be seen trembling. 2. The second legend tells us that as Jesus died on the cross all of the trees bowed in honor. All of the trees, that is, except the aspen. Because of its pride and arrogance, the tree was cursed to tremble forever.

BANANA TREE – It is a symbol of life because it constantly regenerates itself from the same root.

BRAMBLE – Tradition tells us that the burning bush found by Moses in Exodus 3:2 was a bramble bush.

BULRUSH1. Because of its stout nature the bulrush is used to symbolize the church as it thrives on the living water of Jesus Christ. 2. Bulrush symbolizes Moses, whose papyrus basket was found floating in the bulrushes by an Egyptian princess (Exodus 2:5). 3. Because Moses would become the deliverer of the Israelites, the bulrush symbolizes deliverance and salvation.

CARNATION1. If the carnation is red, it symbolizes pure love. 2. If the carnation is pink, it symbolizes marriage.

CEDAR 1. The cedar tree was known for its beauty and majesty. This prompted the author of the Song of Songs found in the Bible to liken Jesus to a cedar (Song of Songs 5:15). 2. The cedar symbolizes steadfastness in faith. 3. Prosperity. 4. Long life.

CHERRY1. This sweet fruit symbolizes a person’s sweet character. Some commentators have called the cherry the fruit of Paradise. 2. In artwork, if the cherry is being held in the hands of Jesus, it symbolizes the joy of being blessed.

CHESTNUT – A chestnut is formed in a thorny, prickly shell. However, the chestnut is not harmed in any way by the thorns. The chestnut symbolizes chastity because a chaste person has resisted the worldly temptations of the flesh, remained untouched by them.

CHRISTMAS ROSE – A white flower that blooms at Christmastime while withstanding the harsh winter conditions. 1. The Christmas rose symbolizes the Nativity of our Lord. 2. It symbolizes the Christmas holiday.

CHRISTMAS STALWORT – A symbol of the Nativity.

CHRYSANTHEMUM (Mum) - A symbol of truth.

COCKLE (Weed) – The cockle symbolizes sin. The cockle flourishes in fields and gardens, intermingling with the good plants. It is very difficult to remove the cockle without damaging the good plants.

COLUMBINE1. Columbine symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The columbine’s delicate white petals have been compared to a white dove. This led to the naming of the plant based on the Latin word for dove, “columba.” 2. When columbine is portrayed with seven blooms on a single stock, it symbolizes the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11:2.

CORN - Corn, when grouped together with bunches of grapes symbolizes the two elements of communion; the bread and the wine.

CYCLAMEN (Bleeding Nun) – The cyclamen is a flower with a red spot at its center. The flower symbolizes the Virgin Mary and her bleeding heart.

CYPRESS – When a cypress tree is cut down, it does not grow back from its roots. Based on this observation, the Greeks connected the cypress tree with death and the underworld. The early Christians took this symbol and used it on their tombs.

DANDELION – The dandelion is a bitter herb. This bitterness is symbolic of the crucifixion. In art, it can be found in paintings of the Virgin Mary with Child.

DOGWOOD – Legend tells us that the dogwood tree used to be large and mighty like the oak. Because of this, it was chosen to be the wood used for the cross. The dogwood was greatly saddened by this. As Jesus lay hanging on the cross, He sensed the dogwood’s displeasure being used in such a way. He promised the dogwood that the tree would cease to be mighty like the oak. From then on, it would be slender and bent. It’s petals would grow into the form of a cross, with two petals growing longer than the other two. On the outer edge of each petal would be the nail markings, stained in blood and rust. In the center of the flower, the crown of thorns would be formed. So all who looked upon the dogwood would always remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.

ELDER – A tree that symbolizes zeal.

ELM – The elm is a mighty and glorious tree. It symbolizes the power and dominance of a Christian who is firmly rooted in the Word of God.

EVERGREEN TREE 1. It is a symbol of eternal life. 2. A symbol of God’s everlasting love. 3. A symbol of Christmas. This is especially true when the tree is decorated with chrismons. SEE ALSO: Holidays: Christmas Trees.

FERN1. The fern symbolizes solitude, humility and sincerity. The fern hides itself in the woods and reveals its splendors only to those who earnestly seek it out. 2. The fern, because of its beauty and tight, curvy symmetry, was a popular space filler in medieval art and architecture. Used in this way, the fern holds no meaning.

FIG 1. The fig tree symbolizes sin. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge, they realized their nakedness and hid from God. Genesis 3:7 tells us that they sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness. It is believed by some scholars that the Tree of Knowledge was hence a fig tree. 2. In His teachings, Jesus referred negatively to the fig tree in both Matthew 21:19-21 and Mark 11:13-14, which only compounds the already negative image of the tree.

FIR 1. The fir tree is a symbol of the elect of Heaven. 2. It is a symbol of patience.

FLEUR DE LYS 1. While not an actual flower, the fleur de lys (French for “flower of the lily”) is an iris which is used to symbolize the Triune nature of God (Trinity). 2. The flower can symbolize the Virgin Mary. 3. The fleur de lys is a symbol of the royal French family. In this case, the symbol has no spiritual meaning.

FRUIT – Fruit represents the fruits (gifts) given to each believer by the Holy Spirit. SEE ALSO: Holy Spirit: Seven Gifts of or Nine Gifts of.

GLADIOLUS – The gladiolus is a symbol of the Incarnation of God.

GLASTONBURY THORN – The Glastonbury Thorn is symbolic of Jesus’ nativity. It is a specific thorn bush located within the gates of the ruined abbey at Glastonbury, Somerset, in England. Legend states that the thorn bush is a direct descendent of the thornwood staff that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea (Joseph is credited with bringing Christianity to England in the first century). Legend tells us that Joseph stuck his staff into the ground before he lay down to sleep. The next morning when he awoke he found that his staff had taken root and bloomed. Every year at Christmastime the Glastonbury Thorn breaks out into bloom. While the original thorn bush has died, a cutting of the original grows there to this day. The blooming of the Glastonbury Thorn at Christmastime used to be considered miraculous. However, this particular thorn bush buds twice a year, once in spring and once at Christmastime.

GOURD1. The gourd symbolizes the resurrection. In the story of Jonah, God caused a gourd to grow and shade Jonah from the scorching sun. The gourd was frequently used in burial art to symbolize the resurrection. In artwork the gourd can be found next to an apple as a sort of antithesis. The apple represents sin and death, the gourd the resurrection from death. 2. The gourd symbolizes pilgrimage. It was used by pilgrims to carry drinking water as they traveled to Christianity’s sacred sites. The gourd is often found in illustrations of James the Great and the Archangel Raphael.

GRAPES1. Grapes symbolize the wine of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). The wine symbolizes our Lord’s blood, shed on the cross for our sins. This is especially true when ears of grain are present, representing the bread (body). 2. Grapes symbolize Jesus as the true vine (John 15:1). 3. Grapes and vines were very popular in early Christian art because of the freedom it gave artists to fill empty space with running vines. In this use, the vines have no meaning.

HOLLY (ILEX)1. The holly with its thorny leaves symbolizes Jesus’ crown of thorns. 2. Legend tells us that when it came time for Jesus’ crucifixion, all the trees agreed not to allow their wood to be used for the cross. When the woodcutter laid his ax to each tree, the tree exploded into thousands of splinters. Only one tree, the holly tree, did not splinter, allowing its wood to be used for the cross.

HYACINTH – The hyacinth symbolizes the desire for Heaven and its peace. The meaning of the hyacinth is based on the pagan legend of a young man, named Hyancinthus, who was accidentally killed by the god Apollo. Apollo, in his sorrow, caused a plant to grow from the man’s spilled blood. The plant was the hyacinth.

HYSSOP1. Psalms 51:7 speaks of being cleansed with hyssop. In this context the hyssop symbolizes penitence. 2. Because of the hyssop’s regeneration qualities, it symbolizes baptism.

IRIS – The iris represents the Virgin Mary. The word iris means “sword” and was quickly connected to Luke 2:35 which tells of Mary’s heart being figuratively pierced with a sword. In art, the iris was often used in place of the lily in paintings of the Virgin Mary. If the iris is a blue color, it represents Mary as the Queen of Heaven. A white Iris symbolizes Mary’s purity.

IVY1. Because the ivy is an evergreen it symbolizes eternal life. 2. As it clings tightly to the object it is connected to, ivy represents fidelity (faithfulness in marriage). 3. Ivy was very popular in early Christian art because of the freedom it gave artists to fill empty space with running vines. In this use, the vines have no meaning.

JASMINE1. Jasmine symbolizes the Virgin Mary because of its white color and sweet aroma. 2. Grace. 3. Elegance. 4. Friendliness.

LAUREL 1. Laurel symbolizes triumph. The Romans would award their winning athletes with a crown of laurel. In I Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul speaks of this crown as being perishable, whereas the crown awarded to the faithful in Heaven is imperishable. 2. Laurel symbolizes eternity because laurel leaves never turn brown and wilt but maintain their green color. 3. Laurel represents chastity. Its connection with chastity probably dates back to the Roman Empire. It was explicitly connected with a select cultic group of chaste women known as the Vestal Virgins.

LEMON 1. The lemon is symbolic of faithfulness in marriage. 2. It is a symbol of the Virgin Mary.

LILY1. The lily symbolizes purity. 2. It symbolizes the Virgin Mary. 3. The lily, if portrayed among thorns, symbolizes the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Immaculate Conception is the Roman Catholic belief that Mary was born without original sin so as to be a perfect vessel to give birth to a perfect son, Jesus. The lily represents purity and the thorns represent sin. 4. The lily symbolizes the Annunciation, the time when the angel visited Mary concerning her future pregnancy. Often the angel is portrayed with a lily in his hand. 5. Occasionally in early art the lily was used to symbolize various virgin saints. 6. Lilies of different colors have different meanings. A red lily symbolizes divine love A yellow/gold lily symbolize divine light. A purple lily symbolizes humility or chastity.

LILY OF THE VALLEY1. The lily of the valley, being the first to bloom in the spring, symbolizes the second coming of Jesus. 2. The lily of the valley symbolizes the Virgin Mary based on its usage in Song of Songs 2:1.

LOTUS – A beautiful flower that sinks its roots and stem deep into a mucky river or pond bottom while keeping its beautiful flower floating above it. The lotus is a symbol of the Christian who is to rise above the muck and sin of the world.

MUSTARD TREE 1. A symbol of growth based on Matthew 13:31-32 and Luke 13:18-19. 2. A symbol of the church.

MYRTLE1. Myrtle symbolizes love and joy. The meaning was borrowed from Greco-Roman paganism. Myrtle, an evergreen plant, was sacred to Venus (Aphrodite) the goddess of love. Myrtle was frequently used in Greek and Roman marriage ceremonies. The Jews borrowed the symbolism of the myrtle, using it in their ceremonies as a symbol of joy. 2. Myrtle symbolizes Jesus taking the New Testament message to the Gentiles. The symbolism is drawn from Zechariah 1:8, where a man (representing Jesus) on a red horse is seen standing among the myrtle trees (Gentiles).

NARCISSUS – The narcissus symbolizes selflessness and the triumph of divine love. It is sometimes depicted in scenes of the Annunciation. The symbolism in Christian circles is actually a reversal of the pagan view of the flower. In paganism, narcissus symbolizes selfishness and self-love, coldness and indifference. The symbolism was taken from a Greek legend. It tells the tale of a young man named Narcissus who fell vainly in love with his own image. One day, while viewing his reflection in a pond, he tried to embrace his own image. He fell into the water and drowned. After his death, his body became the narcissus flower.

OAK 1. The oak symbolizes Jesus. This is an adaptation of the pagan worship practices where ancient druids, Greeks and Romans revered and worshipped the oak. Christianity shifted the worship away from pagan gods and towards Jesus. 2. A symbol of the Virgin Mary. 3. In general, the oak is a highly durable hardwood. It can symbolize endurance against adversity, steadfastness and faithfulness during times of trouble.

OLIVE1. The olive tree and its fruit symbolize peace. The story of the dove returning to the ark with an olive leaf in its beak (Genesis 8:11) shows God’s peace towards humankind. 2. Often found on Christian graves dating back to the first century, the olive branch/tree symbolizes the peace of a departed person’s soul. 3. In artwork, the Archangel Gabriel is sometimes seen carrying an olive branch to the Virgin Mary in scenes of the Annunciation. 4. Olive trees symbolize prosperity where its prestigious position among trees is showcased due to the importance of their oil (Judges 9:8-9).

ORANGE1. The orange symbolizes the Fall. Legend has it that it was an orange that Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve to sin. 2. Because the orange symbolizes the fall of Adam (the first man) and Eve (the first woman), an orange held in the hand of Jesus (the second man) or the Virgin Mary (the second woman) symbolizes the conquering of sin. 3. Because the orange blossoms are white, they symbolize purity and are connected with the Virgin Mary. They are sometimes used in bridal wreaths.

PALM 1. The palm branch was a symbol of victory during the Roman time period. This is affirmed when reading of Jesus’ followers waving palm branches at Jesus upon His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-13). Jesus is frequently seen holding a palm, symbolizing absolute victory over death. 2. Because it is a symbol of victory, the palm branch is a symbol of any person martyred for his or her faith in God. Palm branches are frequently found held in the hands of martyrs when they are depicted in art. It can also symbolize a saint overcoming a certain pain or temptation. 3. In the early church, the palm tree was used interchangeably with the Tree of Life.

PANSY 1. The pansy symbolizes meditation and remembrance. 2. The pansy’s three colors can represent the Trinity.

PASSION FLOWER – A flower named after the Passion of Jesus on the cross. Spanish missionaries, when they discovered the plant, connected its various parts to Jesus’ crucifixion. The numerous filaments radiating from the center of the flower represent the crown of thorns. The ten petals symbolize the ten apostles who were faithful to Him. The three stigma symbolize the three nails used to hold Jesus to the cross and the five anthers symbolize the five wounds Jesus received.1

PEACH 1. The peach is symbolic of virtue. 2. The peach symbolizes redemption. Like the orange, the peach can appear in paintings of Jesus (second man) and the Virgin Mary (the second woman) to symbolize the conquering of the fall.

PEAR – The pear is a symbol of Jesus’ love for us.

PLANE TREE – The plane tree represents Christian charity because it spreads its branches high and wide.

PLANTAIN – The plantain symbolizes the pilgrim’s journey to Christ. This is because the plant was frequently seen growing along paths and roads.

PLUM1. The plum is symbolic of fidelity and independence. 2. The plum, like the vine, was frequently used to fill in space in paintings and architecture. In this context it has no meaning.

POINSETTIA - A plant native to South America now closely connected with Christmas. The connection is because of a legend that tells of a poor girl going to church on Christmas. She didn’t have a present for baby Jesus so she picked some weeds from the side of the road. When she presented them to the baby Jesus in the manger scene, they miraculously sprouted into a beautiful red plant. The leaf, in the shape of a star symbolizes the star that appeared over Bethlehem. The red color symbolizes the blood Jesus shed on the cross.

POMEGRANATE 1. The pomegranate symbolizes the church. The pomegranate’s many seeds symbolize the believers who make up the church. 2. The sweet red juice of the pomegranate represents the blood of the martyrs. 3. The pomegranate symbolizes the resurrection. This is true when paintings depict it being held by Jesus. 4. A symbolic meaning of less significance in Christianity is that of fertility.

POPPY 1. The poppy is a symbol of sleep and death. 2. Because the poppy is a blood red color it can symbolize Jesus’ death on the cross. 3. Ignorance. 4. A careless attitude.

REED1. The reed is a symbol of the humiliation Jesus faced leading to His death. It was thought that the scepter placed in Jesus’ hands was made of reeds and was used to hit the crown of thorns on His head during His beating (Matthew 27:29-30). Further, it was upon a reed that a sponge soaked with vinegar and water was placed in order to give Jesus a drink when He was on the cross (Matthew 27:48). 2. The reed symbolizes John the Baptist because Jesus referred to him as a reed in Matthew 11:7. In art, John the Baptist is often shown holding a cross made of reeds.

ROSE – Tradition, according to Ambrose, tells us that the rose had no thorns before the fall of humankind. After the fall, the rose grew thorns. The rose is still beautiful and fragrant as a reminder of Paradise, but the thorns are a reminder of sin’s devastating effects on the earth. 1. A red rose symbolizes martyrdom. 2. A white rose symbolizes purity. 3. Because thorns represent original sin, the Virgin Mary is sometimes referred to as the “rose without thorns.” This refers to the Roman Catholic belief that Mary was protected from original sin so she might be a perfect vessel to give birth to a perfect child: Jesus. In art, roses depicted with Mary are always without thorns. 4. A garland of roses symbolize the Roman Catholic practice of the rosary. 5. Wreaths made of roses symbolize heavenly joy. In art, wreaths are usually worn by angels and saints. 6. Roses sometimes refer to the name of the saint.

SHAMROCK (Clover) – The shamrock symbolizes the Trinity. The three leaf shamrock was used by St. Patrick to explain the Trinity to the Irish unfamiliar with Christianity. They were having a hard time understanding his explanation of the Trinity. Patrick plucked a shamrock and explained that the shamrock is one leaf. It is one plant. But each shamrock has three, separate leaflets. So too is the Trinity. SEE ALSO: Trinity: Shamrock.

STRAWBERRY1. The strawberry’s three leaves symbolize the Trinity. 2. The strawberry’s fivefold leaf on the fruit itself represents the five wounds of Jesus. 3. The red color of the fruit symbolizes the shed blood of Jesus and/or the martyrs. 4. The strawberry, when shown grouped with other fruits, symbolizes the fruits of the Holy Spirit. 5. The strawberry, which grows close to the ground, symbolizes humility.

SUNFLOWER1. A sunflower is known for raising its head towards the sun during the day and lowering its head when the sun goes down. It symbolizes keeping our eyes fixed only on Jesus. 2. Glory. 3. Gratitude. 4. Remembrance.

THISTLE 1. The thistle symbolizes earthly turmoil and sin in a person’s life. This is based on the curse placed on humankind in Genesis 3:17-18. 2. Because the thistle is prickly like thorns, it can represent the Passion of our Lord as it symbolizes the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head before His crucifixion.

THORNS1. Thorns symbolize the Passion of Jesus. Thorns are used to represent the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head (Matthew 27:29) as a mockery of His being the King of the Jews. 2. Thorns represent grief and sin. This refers to the parable of the farmer who threw seed in different areas. The seeds that fell among the thorns grew quickly but were choked out by the thorns (Matthew 13:7).

TREE1. The tree in a poor, withered state symbolizes death. 2. The tree in a healthy and strong state symbolizes life. It is interesting that sin started with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:9) and will end with the Tree of Life in Heaven (Revelation 22:2).

VINE 1. The vine represents Jesus and is a symbol that dates back to the first century. It shows the relationship of God and His people as related in John 15:5. 2. The vineyard represents the church being cared for by God (Isaiah 5:7). This is especially true when the vine is covered with shields upon which the symbols of the apostles are engraved. 3. The vine, because of its fluid shape, was frequently used by artists to simply fill empty space in art and architecture. In this context it has no meaning.

VIOLET1. The violet, a small, lowly flower, is symbolic of humility. It symbolizes humility because it often grows under larger plants, hedges and logs. 2. The violet symbolizes Jesus, the very Son of God, who humbled Himself and made Himself of no reputation by becoming a man. 3. The violet symbolizes the Virgin Mary because she humbly accepted her calling to give birth to the Son of God. 4.

WHEAT (Grain)1. Wheat symbolizes the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). The ears of wheat (body) are shown beside a bunch of grapes (blood) as a two-part symbol of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). 2. The wheat suggests the human nature of Jesus. 3. If the wheat is shown with tares it is a symbol of Christians and non-Christians in the church. This is based on Matthew 13:24-30.

WILLOW – The willow symbolizes the gospel message of Jesus because it can be heavily trimmed and pruned but it keeps right on growing. In like manner, the Word of God, no matter how suppressed, continues to re-emerge and spread.


FOOTNOTES
1. Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia, “Passion Flower”, Accessed at www.wikipedia.org; Internet; accessed 3 January 2007.